published Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

No tax hike in Chattanooga mayor's budget


by Cliff Hightower
Mayor Ron Littlefield speaks during a March 29 press conference at City Hall.
Mayor Ron Littlefield speaks during a March 29 press conference at City Hall.
Photo by Dan Henry.

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

• No property tax increase.

• Includes money for city employee pay raises.

• Has funding for 15 new firefighters and two gang task force employees.

• Does not include additional money for hiring new police officers.

• Allocates $100,000 for the Office of Sustainability.

• Contributes additional money to city employee pension programs.

Source: Chattanooga

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For the second year in a row, Chattanoogans won't be staring at a property tax increase.

The $209 million budget for next year is $8 million more than this year's and includes more than $2.8 million in pay raises for city employees, city records show.

"There were no surprises," said Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee.

Chief Finance Officer Daisy Madison took about 45 minutes to go over the budget with the council Tuesday during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting. Her staff handed out binders of the more than 200-page budget to council members.

The budget includes $2.8 million for pay raises, $1.6 million for fire and police pensions, $276,383 for gang initiative operations and $100,000 for the Office of Sustainability.

Seventeen new positions are also included -- 15 firefighters and two gang task force members -- but nothing for additional police, Madison said.

About $1.2 million of the $2.8 million is set aside for the Chattanooga Police Department's career ladder, Madison said.

The mayor has told the council it could choose to use the $1.2 million for police take-home cars, but that would mean no money for the police career ladder.

The rest of the $2.8 million will go to all other employees, but it has not been decided on what route to take.

The city could either use the money as a cost of living increase, which is an across the board percentage, or put the money in its career ladder program, which rewards on seniority and skills.

She said it is still up in the air on who will get raises as well.

"The decision hasn't been made on where it will be applied," she said.

The $8 million increase in revenue for the city came from two sources, Madison said. She said the finance department budgeted conservatively last year and came up above expectations. Also, sources of revenue increased, she said.

City records show property taxes decreased by 0.7 percent.

"Our sales tax is up 11 percent," Madison said. "That's phenomenal."

She said the reasoning was the conservative projected budget and the end of the sales tax agreement last year with the county, which brought in additional revenue.

Other revenue streams such as licenses and permit and beer and liquor sales were also increased, records show.

The City Council will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday to begin talks on the budget. Madison is asking for the budget to be approved by June 19, well before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Berz said afterward the council will have a week to look over the entire budget.

"Next week is when the deliberation starts," she said.

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